Nfld. & Labrador

'Stay Home Year' licence plates a pandemic hit

A Corner Brook sign-maker has found a new niche with COVID-19.

Corner Brook sign maker Dennis Blackwood loves making customers happy

Dennis Blackwood of Corner Brook has been making 'Stay Home Year' licence plates during the pandemic. (Troy Turner/CBC)

Rather than let a business lull during COVID-19 defeat him, a Corner Brook sign-maker has flipped the script and found a way to make money — and put smiles on customers' faces. 

Blackwood said in his 38-year career of making signs and personalized licence plates, he has seldom seen business at such a crawl. 

"This winter was the worst on record — slowest I've ever had in my shop," he said. 

Blackwood, though, now has something of a hit on his hands, with his "Stay Home Year" licence plates bringing in customers. His is one of the companies in this province making the novelty plates with the "stay home" theme.

His most popular one in the series pays homage to the original Newfoundland "Come Home Year" plate from 1966, by stylizing his with the iconic colour and similar typeface of the original. Come Home Year was a landmark tourism promotion of the Smallwood government, with a national campaign to lure expatriates back to the province — in part to celebrate the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway across the island. 

His business also sponsored Corner Brook's Come Home Year in 2019, making it a little more personal for Backwood.

"The original colour, the orange, I used," he said. "So I decided to stay with the orange and someone said, 'Why don't you try the Newfoundland flag?' so I did. I like that as well."

Childhood art contest leads to career

While Blackwood has been making signs for most of his adult life, his road to the sign business actually started in Grade 3, the year he won a provincial art contest. 

From there, he kept drawing and creating, and eventually turned it into a part-time job, while he worked full time doing maintenance for the Valley Mall.

Blackwood has two different designs for his licence plates. (Troy Turner/CBC)

"I hand-painted all my life and the last 15-20 years, I had to change over from hand-painting to the equipment," he said. "Now it's all done now by machine. I miss my brushes, of course."

Blackwood splits his workshop between his home and a shed in the backyard. He's in the process of building a new shop, however, that will give him more than 900 square feet of space.

Business has been steady over recent weeks, and Blackwood has sent plates as far as Toronto.

Newfoundland and Labrador's licence plates in 1966 celebrated a government tourism promotion called Come Home Year. (CBC)

"Now there's a few things on the go with the plates.… It's not too bad now," he said.

He hopes business will continue to pick up as the pandemic restrictions are relaxed so he can again see more of his customers in person.

"It's just me [here]," he said. "I just enjoy doing it and when I can see someone smile, it makes me happy.… So that's just in my blood, I guess."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Troy Turner

Reporter

Troy Turner is a veteran journalist who has worked throughout Newfoundland and Labrador in both print and broadcast. Based in Corner Brook, he is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland Morning.

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